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The problem with trying to do a write up about a Joan Rivers interview is that she’s always telling jokes. Putting her jokes on paper, or online, strips them of her brilliant comedic timing. I hate to commit such an atrocity, but I’ve got to do my best to relate to you what went down at the Tribeca Talks panel after the screening of Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work.
It’s no surprise that after the film ended, Rivers strutted to the front of the theater drenched in jewels. In fact, that might have been the largest diamond necklace I’ve ever seen in my life. But that’s what’s important to Rivers: money. Rivers lives a lavish lifestyle and isn’t prepared to let that slip away anytime soon. When moderator Rex Reed joked about Rivers not being able to sit down in an easy chair to read a book without imploding, Rivers shot back, “If I ever sat down in an easy chair to read a book, I’d have a very rich husband.”
The cash flow is a significant motivation, but Rivers clearly has other values, otherwise there’s no way she’d be able to accomplish all she has in her career. Reed highlighted her philanthropic work and the fact that she was one of the first to fight AIDS on national television and endorse condoms. Rather than sit back and revel in the compliment, Rivers joked that at the time she didn’t even know what a condom looked like because, “Well, I had never seen one because I wasn’t particularly attractive.”
Rivers has never thought highly of herself in the looks department, even before her plastic surgery overload. She admitted, “I was never the pretty one.” Having seen a vast amount of images and footage of the more youthful Rivers in the documentary, I can’t quite understand what made Rivers so uncomfortable with her appearance. Regardless, her lack of confidence transformed into one of her most vital assets: her hard working nature. Rivers explained, “That’s why I work harder, to make myself feel better.”
Rivers is at it nonstop. When Reed questioned the queen of the red carpet about when she sleeps, she coolly replied, “On planes.” When asked if she can afford to take a break and go on vacation, she explained, “Seriously, I couldn’t afford to take off. If I’m not there, the money doesn’t come in.” I’d imagine she has a hefty sum in the bank and her inability to take time off is in direct correlation with her classy lifestyle, but her reluctance to take a step back also stems from eagerness to do everything and anything that comes her way. Rivers likened her addiction to work to that of a drug addict, but she did admit to engaging in a little recreational activity after returning from a long trip. “I do crossword puzzles and I read in bed.” Now that must be a sight.
River did admit to drawing the line when it came to one recent offer. “Melissa and I just turned down [an offer] for Clorox.” She explained the gig was worth “a lot of money and we had to go on the air and mention Clorox, you know? ‘Hi Barbara, hi guys, hi Joy. So I was cleaning my toilet with CLOROX.’ And they wanted us to mention diarrhea too."
Such a hard worker is bound to get cranky, right? Somewhat. Reed asked directors Ricki Stern and Anne Sunberg if during their time with Rivers, they ever witnessed a meltdown. Stern complimented Rivers’ patience, but admitted, “Occasionally she’ll get a little snippy, [turns to Joan] when you’re a little tired, and it’s really true.” Specifically Stern recalled, “She was tired and things weren’t going well and there was a moment where you get mad at the sound guy and then afterwards you say, ‘I hate to be a diva, but, you know, I’m nervous.’”
Yes, it’s true; Joan Rivers actually gets nervous. She’s had her fair share of misfortunes, which Reed was unafraid to point out: being dismissed for life by Johnny Carson, losing her show in front of millions and struggling with her husband’s suicide. Rivers’ secret to persevering is simple-- “Just move forward.”
Rivers’ favorite method of coping is clearly poking fun at her troubles. She incessantly mocked her need to wear ‘The Face’ at all times of the day, laughed at her poor performance in the bedroom and even found the humor in her career failures. It’s one thing to make your own ills the butt of a joke, but where do you draw the line when it comes to other’s business? Rivers said she’s never concerned about hurting someone’s feeling except in one instance. She once dropped a nasty bomb on Willie Nelson, only to hear from his young daughter that she had been teased as a result.
Rivers certainly has a heart when necessary. Stern recalled one instance during which Rivers showed off her caring side while filming. “[Cinematographer] Charles [Miller] was late for his flight and this is where you charmed the flight attendants because you had them hold the flight as Charles raced through the airport.” Rivers added, “I was just begging them – and a piece of Joan Rivers jewelry doesn’t hurt.”
Most look at and treat Rivers as thought she’s just another wax figure in Madame Tussauds. She may resemble one on the outside, but that’s no reason to overlook the fact that she is a person and has feelings too. If you’re interested in seeing who Joan Rivers is behind ‘The Face’ and off the red carpet, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work is certainly worth checking out.
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